Envy is one of seven deadly sins for good reason. It harms both the object of the envy and the person feeling it. And there is no doubt about its power. Veja reports on a study that shows that Facebook is accentuating envy and making connected people less happy.
It makes sense. You can feel envious only if you know that others have something you want. Facebook provides ample raw material for envy by providing outlet for another of the deadly sins – pride. People write about their successes and their good luck, sometimes about the stuff they acquired. Of course, envy can be provoked by the mere knowledge that someone seems happier than you are or are getting more attention. Most people think they deserve more than they have, so it is easy to cloak envy in the feelings of injustice.
According to the study, the thing that annoyed people the most by far were pictures of people having a good time while travelling or partying. Of course, this is one of the most common things on Facebook.
Facebook teaches something that most people know but in the absence of direct evidence can ignore. It shows us that our experiences are not special. No matter where you go or what you do, somebody has been there and done that already. We are not wired for this revelation. In a small group, the kind we lived in for most of human history, each of us can be unique. Get enough people together, however, and we start to look like statistics. It is unsettling.
It is worse in Facebook because it is more personal than mass media. If you read about it in the paper, it is them; Facebook is us. We feel it more personally when we think we know the people.
I recall an old advertisement that showed a professor telling his class that they could not all get published because of the tyranny of the publishers. A student stood up and explained the publishing potential of the Internet and that they could all be published. Social media – the Internet in general – let’s everybody be published. We all have the freedom to talk and write. But the numbers of readers and listeners has not increased. Frustrated authors can now publish, but they remain frustrated because nobody reads. I also recall a note written in a computer lab when they still had those big mainframes and card readers. It said, “To err is human, but to really mess up you need computer support.” Social media magnifies individual reach but also accentuates defects.